Yetur Gross-Matos Shares Stories Of Family Tragedies With ESPN

Penn State football’s Yetur Gross-Matos is one of the best defensive linemen in the Big Ten, and a good 2019 season could set him up to be selected very early in next spring’s NFL Draft.

Before his college football career in Happy Valley started, however, Gross-Matos’ life was shaped by two major family tragedies. The star defensive end shared the stories of the deaths of his biological father and older brother in an ESPN feature by Dan Murphy published Friday.

Gross-Matos’ father, Michael Gross, passed away on May 7, 2000. A then-two-year old Yetur was sitting in his dad’s lap when they both fell off their family’s boat while in a small tributary of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Yetur was rescued, but Michael passed away at the age of 29 despite his family’s efforts to save him.

Although he has no memory of that sunny May afternoon, Gross-Matos has dealt with survivor’s guilt. He was rescued by his grandfather, who tried to swim after Michael after grabbing Yetur and handed him to his mother.

“I just know if he didn’t jump into that water to save me, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Yetur told Murphy. “I’m still breathing because of him. I definitely see it as a sacrifice, and I’m eternally grateful.”

According to Gross-Matos’ mother, Sakinah, Yetur was always quiet about his biological father’s death up until he began high school due to survivor’s guilt. That changed when he explained what he felt to his mother, which served as a turning point for the eventual four-star recruit.

“It broke my heart that he felt that way,” Sakinah told Murphy. “But right away I saw a more energetic, open-minded Yetur. He wanted to join everything, participate in everything.”

Nearly 10 years after his father’s death, Yetur’s older brother, Chelal, was struck by lightning and died on June 3, 2009, after he and Yetur’s little league baseball game was canceled. Yetur and Chelal shared bunk beds growing up, which was a literal way that the Nittany Lions’ star looked up to his older brother.

“He was way, way better at everything,” Yetur said of Chelal, whose name is now tattooed on the defensive end’s arm. “He was very charismatic, brave. Being around him all the time was like being around a hero.”

Rob Matos — Gross-Matos’ stepfather who eventually adopted him and his siblings — blamed himself for Chelal’s death, and Yetur felt responsible for his biological father’s death. Sakinah Gross-Matos served as a beacon of support for both with her energetic parenting style and unwavering and unconditional love. Over time, she convinced them they weren’t responsible for each tragedy.

The ESPN feature began with a vivid description and showcase of one of the family’s most valuable possessions: a quilt honoring Chelal’s life made after his passing. The quilt is made up of some of Chelal’s old clothing, and the entire Gross-Matos family makes sure to take very good care of it at all times.

“It’s one of those unwritten codes,” Yetur told Murphy. “When you’re by it, be careful. No spilled drinks, no eating on it. It means something to all of us.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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